John Frayne's spring concert season preview: Part II

Here is a further preview of upcoming events in the spring concert season (events are at 7:30 p.m. in the Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, unless otherwise noted):

The China National Symphony Orchestra, with conductor En Shao, will offer a Feb. 23 program that includes Richard Strauss' epic musical self-portrait, "Ein Heldenleben," ("A Hero's Life"). In my memory, this is the first orchestra from mainland China to play here.

The Chinese music to be played is the first movement of Xia Guan's "Earth Requiem," composed in memory of the 2008 devastating earthquake in Sichuan province in China. One of the most popular of 20th century violin concertos, Jean Sibelius' Concerto in D Minor, Op.47, will be played by prodigy Chuanyun Li. Li, born in 1980, won a prize at age 5, and his playing was featured in the 2008 film "Together."

At 7 p.m. Feb. 24 in the airy spaces of Holy Cross Church, 405 W. Clark St., C, the Prairie Ensemble, conducted by Kevin Kelly, will offer a concert called "A Windy Affair." It will open with a blast in the form of George Frideric Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks," and continue with such works as Igor Stravinsky's 1948 "Mass," sung by the guest group, Prairie Voices.

Stravinsky wrote this Catholic "Mass" after coming across some Masses of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in a secondhand book shop.

The renowned Juilliard Quartet is coming to C-U on Feb. 28. This quartet is famous for its playing of challenging contemporary music. On the Juilliard program will be "Four Canons" from Johann Sebastian Bach's monumental summary of contrapuntal writing, "The Art of the Fugue." The 1995 String Quartet No. 5 by Elliott Carter, who died last November at age 103, will also be played, and Mozart's String Quartet No. 21 in D major, nicknamed "The Violet," will round out the program.

Also on Feb. 28, the University of Illinois Opera Program will open a series of four performances of a concert version (with all music and dialogue) of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's classic musical "My Fair Lady." An example of the adaptation being more famous than the original, this show was based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion." Eduardo Diazmunoz will conduct and Ricardo Herrera will direct. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28-March 2 and 3 p.m. March 3 in Krannert's Tryon Festival Theatre.

The UI Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Donald Schleicher, will play a concert March 1, with Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" concerto on the program as well as Mozart's final symphonic masterpiece, Symphony No. 41, "Jupiter."

Pianist Andrew Tyson, a winner of the 2011 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, will play a recital at 3 p.m. March 3 in Foellinger.

Ian Hobson's Brahms Piano Series continues March 8 in Smith Music Hall, where Hobson will be joined by Andres Cardenes, violin, and Bernard Scully, French horn, for one of Brahms' chamber music masterpieces, the Trio in E-flat Major for Horn, Violin and Piano.

The Champaign-Urbana Symphony's search for a new music director will continue March 9, when Stephen Alltop will conduct a program with two grandiose works: the prelude to Richard Wagner's opera "The Master Singers of Nuremberg"; and Jean Sibelius' heroic Second Symphony. Alltop has taught conducting at Northwestern University and has been associated with the Apollo Chorus in Chicago. Pianist Winston Choi will be soloist in Serge Prokofiev's brilliant and acerbic Piano Concerto No. 3, a work which the composer himself once recorded. Choi has earned graduate degrees at Indiana University and Northwestern University, and he teaches at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.

The Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana will offer an unusual concert at 7:30 p.m. March 10 in Grace Lutheran Church, 313 S. Prospect Ave., C. That Mount Everest of Baroque contrapuntal writing, Bach's "Art of the Fugue," will be ascended, alternately, by organist Dana Robinson and harpsichordist Charlotte Mattax.

And after that comes spring break at the UI.

Briefly noted

On Jan. 9, I attended the follow-up showing of the new Met production of Guiseppe Verdi's opera, "A Masked Ball" at the Savoy 16. The singing was excellent, with tenor Marcelo Alvarez as the doomed King Gustav, Dimitri Hvorostovsky as Renato, the king's friend and assassin, and Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia, Renato's wife and Gustav's lover.

This production was updated to Sweden sometime in the early 20th century. I found the sets' stark expressionist style distracting and a somewhat simplistic symbolic interpretation. The chorus members were costumed and directed to act in a manner designed to convince us that they were not "real" people.

Diminutive Kathleen Kim was charming as the page Oscar, despite the goatee beard and the cigarette she/he smoked most of the time. Did not Swedish pages know cigs stunt your growth?

Stephanie Blythe, the ample and ominous gypsy Ulrica, told the interviewer that she did a "Kate Smith Show." Now, that I would like to see!

Belated correction

The correct spelling of the Santa at the CUSO Holiday Concert on Dec. 13 is Rodney Woodworth. Alas, one more lump of coal in next year's stocking!

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at frayne@illinois.edu.

Topics (1):Music

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